By Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious.
A restless, elastic-to-kinetic energy peppers Austen Afridi’s speech. He takes a second to get going, but soon the words are growing in frequency and enthusiasm, like a rolling wave picking up pace. Tune into the music that he produces as Viceroy and you’ll find a similar verve. Both are imbued with the sense of constant forward propulsion. And both are consistent with the motto that he’s coined for his uptempo style: “Summertime, All the Time”.
“Summertime, All the Time” encompasses everything about Viceroy’s music: sticky hooks, tanning bed synths, a four-to-the-floor mentality. It’s a sound as recognizable as it is accessible, which is why it’s not hard to understand why the producer has made a big splash on the electronic dance scene. He’s attained such notoriety not with a smash single, but with a steady stream of commissioned remixes for high profile artists like Two Door Cinema Club, Lady Gaga, and RAC, and via irreverent takes on modern “classics” like Will Smith’s “Getting Jiggy With It” and R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)”. Regardless of the source material, everything goes on SoundCloud, and its spreads like wildfire across amongst twentysomethings from there. In this regard, Viceroy is yet another in the new wave of artists eschewing traditional music distribution channels and finding mainstream success despite – or some would say because of – doing so.
While Viceroy’s music and visual esthetic are defined by a tropical vibe, Afridi actually lives and works in cloud-blanketed San Francisco. In anticipation of a handful of shows across the United States and Canada in coming months, I reached out to the Bay Area native at his home studio to discuss his perspective on breaking out as a new artist, branding, and plans for the future. It’s clear that DJ and producer knows exactly the level of hard work required to make his lifestyle a success, and he isn’t resting on his laurels.
Viceroy plays DC’s 9:30 Club on Thursday and NYC’s Brooklyn Bowl on February 25th.
You have the choice of living and producing from anywhere. What’s kept you in San Francisco?
It’s really just the vibe of this city. I grew up half of my life here, and half of my life in Connecticut. I guess that I could be in LA – I know a lot of musicians are.
I mean, half of my family is here, and I really enjoy it. I moved away to Connecticut when I was ten, and I went to college around there, but I came back to San Francisco as soon as I could. There’s just something about this place.
How did you get your start in production? Do you have a background in music outside of DJing?
I grew up playing guitar, bass, and a little bit of piano, and I always messed around on those. I got started in production on the electronic side when I was in college. Now I use Ableton, and Swift, and different outboard gear.
As Viceroy, you’ve performed on several continents and seen audiences from around the globe. What’s been particularly memorable for you?
It depends. I’ve played in the Dominican Republic, in Australia, in Japan. It’s really hard to narrow it down – there are so many great vibes. [Laughs]
Playing the Social Club in Paris was really cool. Playing Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic was also awesome. I guess playing places that are well regarded or really unique – those are the ones that stick with me.
Have you thought about performing with a backing band or adding more live instrumentation?
Yeah, I think we’re going to bring on this sax player for a few of the shows on the upcoming tour to test that out and see how it goes. He’s really talented, and I think it would be really fun to have a live sax player.
We’re also going to work up the visuals, but I think we’re going to move slowly with these things. I don’t have a desire to perform with a full band. It’s never really interested me. I’ve just never been that kind of person. Adding different stuff like [the saxophone] is what I think I’ll be doing.
You’re well known for your remixes. How do you choose songs? Where does inspiration come from?
It’s different in each instance. Sometimes I get asked to remix songs by a record label or an artist directly. It’s not like I usually randomly pick stuff. Other times, it will be a song that I really like. And. you know, if the money on offer is great, I’ll end up taking it and working with the song. It really ranges. [Laughs].
Has anyone that you’re a big fan of approached you about a remix?
Yeah! I was supposed to do some stuff for Lady Gaga. That was really cool. I like doing stuff for the big pop acts. It’s really exciting. I like to take my twist on something that’s so mainstream like that and turn it into something different.
What can we expect from your upcoming album?
I’ve pretty much thrown the concept of the album out the window as of a couple of months ago. I just feel like being an “album artist” is not my style. It doesn’t make sense for me to put out a record, as I’m not really playing with a band at the moment. I’d rather just put out a ton of singles and original content and collaborations on a shorter time scale.
You’re proof that a new artist can be successful without releasing records through more traditional avenues. What advantages and challenges has using Spotify and SoundCloud to promote yourself posed thus far?
In this era, you don’t have to be signed to a major label to do what you want, and to be successful. It was really about finding the right branding for myself, and then having that translate into the music – I did kind of a 360 branding of myself.
Doing stuff for free is really big. You can reach the broadest audience that way. It was very organic. It wasn’t like something that I laid down or something that jolted me or anything like that. It was really just putting out material, having it tie in to the brand, and getting the word out. I hit up a lot of blogs personally and doing stuff like that. It all really helped.
Did you expect to have this kind of success so quickly? Were you shocked or surprised by that?
Well, it wasn’t like one minute I was a nobody and then I was playing the 9:30 Club the next. [Laughs] It’s coming up on four years this February since I started doing this. It’s slowly growing. When I look out every year, I feel really lucky that I’m able to do this. It amazes me that people are interested. [Laughs].
You’ve definitely done a good job with your branding. Your “Summertime, All the Time” motto really shines through on each of your productions. People seem to really enjoy it.
Exactly. The goal is just to make people happy, and have fun. I try not to take myself too seriously.
Now that you get to request a rider, do you ever put in ridiculous requests to mess with venues?
[Laughs] Yeah! More and more so. I don’t really have too crazy of a rider, but I always put Capri Suns on there to try and confuse them. I actually don’t drink Capri Suns, but it’s kind of funny to me.
Who are you listening to these days? Who are the bands or artists you enjoy as a consumer?
I tend to listen to a lot more dance music than I used to before. That’s kind of the nature of being a DJ – I’m always hunting for new stuff.
The band I’ve been listening to a lot of is Wunder Wunder. I really like their album; it’s kind of like psychedelic rock. I like Lane 8 a lot. Oh, I really like Hayden James’ song on Future Classic.
What do you do for fun when outside of music? Or is this pretty much an around the clock situation where you’re always stringing ideas together?
I mean, I hang out with my friends a lot. It’s important for me to make sure I incorporate some down time and relaxing.
I’m also working in the restaurant business. I’m a partner in a restaurant group, and we’re opening another spot soon. That’s my side project besides music, and it’s really rewarding to do something outside of the [music] industry.
What kind of restaurant are you opening?
We’ve got one called Palm House that’s already open, and funnily enough, it’s tropical fusion style with a California cuisine twist. [Laughs] It’s been in business for about six months, and that’s basically what I’ve been working on for a while aside from music.
If you had to recommend one dish at your restaurant, what would that be?
Oh, my favorite one of the appetizers is the tuna ceviche. I could eat that for a meal all the time. It’s really good. The jerk chicken is awesome; so is the braised short ribs with the tempura fried onion rings. Yeah, it depends on what you’re looking for. It’s hard to pick.
Additional contributions by Philip Runco.